• Sydney Australia - credit Jackie Appleton
    Sydney Australia - credit Jackie Appleton

MEXICO – Yucatan Peninsula & Riviera Maya

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Kirsty Saunders

 

Our colleague at SASPO recently shared her experience along with her photos of her family trip to Mexico. If you are inspired from this blog then please contact us to start your own Mexican adventure.

 

When planning our family holiday destination, this year the compass pointed us to the multi-coloured country of Mexico.  With a 9 year old boy, we concentrated our 2 week trip on the Mayan Riviera and the Yucatan Peninsula, flying in and out of Cancun International Airport with convenient direct flights from the UK and Europe.

With Tulum as our base on the Riviera Maya, we explored ancient Mayan cities and swam in secluded cenotes before venturing inland to the Yucatan Peninsula to Chichen Itza (one of the New Seven Wonders of the World) and to the beautiful colonial city of Merida, ending with beach time on laid back Holbox Island.

As a family trip, Mexico has lots to offer and I wish to share with you my experience and personal input on suggested do’s and don’ts…

Cancun

Flights from Europe generally arrive late afternoon/early evening so I would recommend an overnight stay in Cancun.  We stayed at Beachscape Kin Ha Hotel which is a mid-range hotel just 25 minutes’ transfer from the airport and situated on the best beach in Cancun, facing the turquoise, tranquil Caribbean Sea.

The hotel is low key and offers great value.  Rooms are arranged in blocks set within a tropical garden.  There is a pool-side restaurant and a beach-front restaurant as well as nice communal areas with books and board games to borrow, a pool table and air hockey.  For longer stays there is even a self-service laundry room, ideal when travelling with children.
From the hotel, you can stroll along the beach passing the neighbouring hotels or it’s an easy 10-minute walk to various nearby shopping malls with restaurants, fast food outlets and supermarkets.

Do: take an early morning walk to have the beach to yourself and enjoy the sunrise.

Don’t: change money at your hotel as there are exchange bureaux within a 5 minute walk of your hotel offering a better exchange rate.

Tulum

There is a great range of hotels in Cancun and along the Riviera Maya’s Caribbean coastline to suit every budget – from “unlimited luxury” resorts to small eco boutique hotels.  We stayed in Tulum, 130 km south of Cancun, with a transfer time of around 1½ hours. Tulum and the beaches south of Cancun are suffering at the moment from unsightly sargassum seaweed which gets washed ashore onto the previously pristine shores.   So why stay here and not in Cancun?  Eco-friendly and laid-back, you are much closer to nature and can get away from the crowds.  The archaeological site of Tulum is literally on your doorstep.  Built on a cliff above the sea in honour of the sun, Tulum is the only walled Mayan city to be discovered.

We stayed at the El Pez Colibri boutique hotel where the service was second-to-none.  From the turndown service with tea and chocolates.. to the tray of morning coffee (and hot chocolate for our son) delivered to our room.. to the concierge’s call to our room at 10 pm on our first night to let us know that there was a sea turtle laying her eggs on the sand if we wanted to quietly come and watch.

Close to Tulum, there are gorgeous and easily accessible “cenotes”, natural freshwater pools in the rock – the water is deep and refreshingly cool after the heat of the beaches.  Bring a mask and snorkel (or rent them along with buoyancy vests) and see the fish and turtles swimming in the crystal clear water.  My personal highlight was a visit to the little-visited Muyil archaeological ruins and the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a sprawling protected area and home to tons of wildlife, particularly birds and flamingos.  Here you can take a boat ride through a freshwater lagoon and float down Mayan-built canals through the Yucatan jungle.

Along the Riviera Maya, there are also various eco-parks that make ideal day excursions for families with children.  Xcaret is an eco-archaeological park with its own beach and natural pools as well as a coral reef aquarium, aviary and various shows.  Xel-Ha is another eco-park with a collection of cenotes, lagoons, caves and zip-lines – ideal for families looking for adventure and adrenaline-pumping activities!

Do: visit the Tulum ruins in the evening (between 5-7 pm when the day-trippers have gone home) for picture-perfect views and gorgeous sunsets.

Chichen Itza

A 2-hour drive from Tulum, Chichen Itza is in the heart of the Yucatan. We stayed at the Lodge at Chichen Itza, part of the Mayaland Hotel, set in extensive tropical gardens with towering Royal palm trees.  Within the gardens, there is a planetarium (with various shows each day), a spa and several swimming pools.  In the tropical jungle heat, I recommend an afternoon by the swimming pool where you can spot different birds and huge lizards!

With a private entrance to the ruins from Mayaland Hotel, Chichen Itza can be visited in the early morning before the day visitors arrive and before the heat rises.  A truly magical experience to see the sun rise over the pyramid of “El Castillo”.

Do: take a sunrise tour of the ruins and beat the crowds!

Don’t: try to do too much – it’s hot and humid so take time and relax.

From Chichen Itza,  it’s a two-hour transfer to Mérida and I would recommend a stop at Izamal, a small traditional town with a pretty main square with market and its impressive yellow-painted Convento.  The journey takes you along straight roads passing by small pueblos and Mayan communities and tropical forest.

Mérida is a charming city of wide tree-lined boulevards and historic mansions.  We visited on a Saturday evening which is Noche Mexicana when Paseo de Montejo is closed to traffic and there was a lovely atmosphere with families strolling by and riding bicycles and musical and dance performances.  Paseo de Montejo leads to the pretty downtown area with squares, churches, palm trees and good restaurants and pavement cafés.  Both the Mayan ruins of Uxmal and the Celestún Biosphere Reserve with flocks of flamingos and birdlife are within easy reach for day excursions from Mérida .
We stayed at Hacienda Misne, a beautiful oasis 20 minutes’ drive outside Mérida (one-way taxi to downtown Mérida cost around US$5).  The hacienda is situated in a rather plain suburb but once you step into the walled garden, you’re in another world with tall old trees, hammocks, an outside football table, small gym, two swimming pools with excellent waiter service and a superb restaurant.  The guest rooms are situated in separate buildings lining the perimeter of the walled garden, built in similar style to the original hacienda building with high ceilings and steep roof.

Do: take a walking tour of the city to best appreciate its colonial architecture and fine churches.

Don’t: miss the opportunity to visit the ruins of Uxmal – one of the great showpieces of Mayan architecture.

Holbox

It’s a pleasingly easy journey to the island of Holbox, situated just off the northern tip of the Yucatan peninsula.  From Mérida, it’s a 3½ hour drive along straight roads through the tropical forest to the port of Chiquila.  En route, you can stop at the charming town of Valladolid with its lovely main square and interesting shops.
Valladolid would also make an ideal overnight stop for those who want to stay a little off the beaten track with a lovely colonial style hotel overlooking the square.  From Chiquila, the ferry departs every 30  minutes and takes 20 minutes to cross the water to reach Holbox – all very straightforward with luggage loaded and unloaded quickly and efficiently.  On arrival on Holbox, you are met by the “taxi rank” of golf buggies ready to take you along the sand road to your hotel as very few cars are permitted on the island.

There is a good selection of hotels to choose on Holbox – most are beach-front and “barefoot chic”.  We stayed at Holbox Dreams Beachfront Hotel which is a mid-range hotel.  Guest rooms are simple but attractively decorated with nice touches.  There was no water on a couple of occasions but it came back pretty quickly and is one of the challenges of being on a small island.  The hotel has two small swimming pools which are kept very clean and were lit at night.  Walk through the gardens to reach the beautiful white sand beach with calm, shallow waters ideal for small children and a convenient beach club with restaurant, sun loungers and shade and excellent waiter service.

Holbox is easily walkable (or you can rent bicycles) with a small downtown area with good shops and restaurants.  Our highlight on Holbox was a boat trip to swim with whale sharks.  My initial nerves were swiftly allayed as these gentle giants are shy and docile and the experience of swimming alongside them is quite magical.  Very well organised with experienced and helpful crew and snorkeling equipment and buoyancy vest provided, this is a full day tour with time also to snorkel on the reef and stop for a delicious ceviche lunch on the beach.  I would recommend a 4 or 5 night stay on Holbox.  There are various island tours and if you visit when there is no moon you have the opportunity to see the “Bioluminescence” – the phenomenon where the water on the beach is illuminated by micro-organisms in the sea.
After your stay on Holbox, you can easily make the transfer (ferry + drive) directly to Cancun airport for your flight home as most of the flights back to the UK and Europe depart in the late afternoon/evening.  The transfer time to the airport is around 2 – 2 ½ hours plus the 20 minute ferry crossing.

Do: take a boat trip to swim with the whale sharks – a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Don’t: over-pack – there are some superb restaurants on Holbox but island life is low key and informal.

All our transfers were arranged with a private car and driver with the flexibility to stop for lunch or to pick up water and supplies or change money, or even with time for a quick swim in a cenote en route.
Another option would be to have a rental car and self-drive.  With straight roads passing through low forest and small towns, the peninsula is safe and easy to navigate.

Wishing you all happy planning, and remember that Mexico is not just beach.  There is much more to explore inland and to experience the warmth of the Mexican welcome – travelling with or without children!

 

Chile: The Best Place to Witness the Total Solar Eclipse in 2019

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Vicki Tester

 

Join a tour in to the heart of the Elqui Valley, Chile for an amazing location to see the Total Solar Eclipse which will occur on 02 July 2019 at 16:40. The tour is a 4 day glamping experience that allows you time to explore the region with its hot springs, fascinating valleys and picturesque villages.

On the day of the eclipse you journey up to the observation point in good time to have lunch and then prepare for the eclipse.

Add this unique experience to a tour of this country that has a diversity of experiences awaiting exploration – Atacama Desert, remote and exciting Patagonia, the beautiful Lakes region, Wine region and the Capital, Santiago, which is well worth exploring.

For more information on this once in a lifetime trip please contact us

Picture courtesy of Sernatur

Picture courtesy of Sernatur

Picture courtesy of Chile Tourist Board

 

Panama: Whale Watching in the Chiriqui Gulf

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Vicki Tester

 

From July to November whales migrate from the North and South Poles to mate and to have their calves, especially the humpback whales. The warm waters of the Chriqui Gulf are ideal for the calves who are born with hardly any body fat and would find the extreme cold waters of the Poles impossible for survival. They are also relatively predator free.

Along the Pacific coast of Panama, Colba Island and the south of Veraguas Province are considered the ideal places to catch your whale watching boats. The beautiful warm sea will entice you to stay to explore the corals and beaches as well as seeing these giants of nature.

Another excellent reason to visit this small but exciting Central America destination – indigenous tribes, rain forests full of wildlife, two Panama Canals and the city of Panama that has been built 3 times.

For more details please contact us.

 

Pacific_138324898253

Picture courtesy of Metropolitan Touring

New Train to Machu Picchu, Peru

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Vicki Tester

 

Catch the new Inca Rail to Machu Picchu from either Cusco or Ollanta and experience the “extra” view now available. The carriage high, wide, domelike windows give you panoramic vistas as you climb towards this amazing World Heritage Site. The seats are roomy and comfortable, with device charging points and gourmet meals made from local produce are on offer.

 For even better views, make your way to the open air Observatory Lounge which offers fresh air as well as the very best of views on this iconic train journey.

For those who don’t know, Machu Picchu is an Incan citadel that is set high in the Andes Mountains in Peru, above the Urubamba River valley. It was built during the 15th century then later abandoned, it’s renowned for its sophisticated dry-stone walls that fuse huge blocks without any use of mortar, with intriguing buildings that play on astronomical alignments and panoramic views. Its exact former use still remains a mystery.
  
If you would like more information then please contact us.

Picture courtesy of Jackie Appleton

Picture courtesy of Jackie Appleton

Region: Hawaii

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Vicki Tester

 

Hawaii Islands are full of beautiful beaches, lush forests, active volcanoes and wonderful scenery.   With typically small variations in temperature between the seasons of summer and winter, this is a year round destination and is sure to have something to offer everyone.

Akaka Falls (Big Island) Island of Hawaii Credit Visitors Bureau Larry Marshalln

Waikiki Credit Hawaii Tourism Authority Tor Johnson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Panama Itinerary

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Posted by:

Vicki Tester

 

Panama City itself is actually three cities in one. La Vieja is the ancient ruined city that the Spaniards burned down on the approach of the pirate Henry Morgan. He still sacked the remainder of the city and stayed a month to ensure he had squeezed all the gold out of the inhabitants. Then there is Casco Antiguo with its Spanish feel, boutique hotels and excellent bars and restaurants and finally the modern city of business skyscrapers and interesting architecture.

Certainly, visit the Miraflores Lock on the old canal to learn about its construction and to watch the huge ship navigate the lock. But also head to the rainforest in a powered dugout to meet the indigenous tribes that still live their traditional lives here.

Finally, finish on a white sand, palm fringed beach on the Caribbean. Home of clear warm water and ideal for spectacular snorkelling and diving.

Summary

Panama

A country that has so much more to offer than just the Panama Canal (well two canals as the new one is up and running).

Day 1:              Panama City

Day 4:              Bocas del Toro

Day 7:              Panama City

Description

Description

 

Day 1

As you descend in to the International airport, look out for the islands and the huge number of vessels awaiting their turn to navigate the Panama Canal. The new canal takes the largest of the ships waiting. While here ensure you explore the 3 different aspects of the City – an insight in to the influence of Europe on this region.

Certainly you should explore the Casco Antiguo, the Spanish part of the city, as it is lively and has an array of good restaurants and bars. Be here for sundown and join the locals parading along the waterfront before deciding where to eat.

On another day take the powered dugout to the village of Embera Drua, well up stream and deep in the rainforest. You will be made very welcome and have a chance to learn about the tribe’s traditional way of life. Fresh fish from the river will be your lunch before you head back down river.

On the way back, stop at Miraflores Lock to watch the boats traversing the isthmus on the Canal. There is an excellent little museum here and information centre about the construction of the Canal.

3 nights Panama

 

Day 4

Time to relax on the beach or take your snorkel out over the coral reefs to see the amazing colours of the coral and all the fish here. Very much a get away from it all destination. With 7 major islands to choose from and Bocas Town being clapboard houses down by the waters edge, you are long way from the big hotel chains found elsewhere.

3 nights Bocas del Toro

 

Day 7

Back to Panama City to connect with your onward flight. Perhaps home but you could make this part of a trip that includes Costa Rica.

Panama

Picture courtesy of Peter Ellis

Panama

Picture courtesy of Peter Ellis

Panama

Picture courtesy of Peter Ellis

Panama

Picture courtesy of Peter Ellis

Little Gems

Little Gems

 

Enjoying the freewheeling life at the village of Embera Drua. While everything was put on for our benefit, everyone seemed so happy that we had made the effort to visit them.

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Travel in Style across Peru

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Vicki Tester

 

Travelling across Peru in style has become easier with the launch of the Andean Explorer Train. This is seriously comfortable train travel with your own cabin and off train excursions to some of Peru’s most iconic sites. The journey has the following itinerary:

Picture courtesy of Jackie Appleton

Day 1

Board the train in the ancient city of Arequipa, settle in to your cabin and acclimatise to the unforgettable style of the train as you start the journey towards Puno. Join your fellow travellers in the bar car before sitting down to a refined Andean dinner in the dinner car. All the while the scenery changes as you settle in to luxury train travel

Day 2

The sun will be rising over Lake Titicaca as you awake and then head for breakfast before a day of exploration. Time to explore the world’s highest navigable lake, firstly in a traditional boat out to Uros, a man made island constructed of interwoven reeds. The people that live on the island also construct their homes, ships and tools from the same reeds.

From here you will head to Taquile Island with its stunning terraced agricultural strips. The inhabitants here live by the same social code that has been in place for the past centuries. Their hand woven fabrics are regarded as the best in Peru. Enjoy lunch on the Collata Beach followed by a performance of local dancers and a chance to watch artisans at work.

Return to the train for a delicious tea and relax as the train heads towards to Cusco.

Picture courtesy of Jackie Appleton

Day 3

Breakfast this morning is accompanied by stunning views as the train heads sets off from Marangani. You will have an off train excursion to Raqch’I archaeological site of a once important Inca settlement.

 

All too soon you will be arriving At Cusco, the former Inca capital. Time to bid farewell to the train crew and the start of your next Peruvian adventure.

Picture courtesy of Jackie Appleton

 

Picture courtesy of Jackie Appleton

Upcoming series on BBC about the Galapagos Islands

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Vicki Tester

 

BBC1 Thurs 3rd April – 9PM

If you ever thought about travelling to the World famous Galapagos Island, then make sure you watch the 3 part documentary starting on the BBC1 this Thursday at 9pm. Headed up as “The Cauldron of Life” it should wet your appetite for bringing forward your plans to make that promised trip to Galapagos.

While talking about programmes coming up, The BBC series on the amazing hotels is featuring Mashpi Lodge in the Andean Cloud Forest in Ecuador, one that we use for those travellers wanting to explore Ecuador further. This is going out on the 03 April and will give you a real taste of what to expect in this unique environment.

To make your own holiday to these amazing Ecuador and Galapagos Islands happen, just give us a call (01323 446550) or email us on info@experienceholidays.co.uk

Lizard in Galapagos

Picture courtesy of Mr & Mrs Brisland

Giant Tortoise in Galapagos

Picture courtesy of Mr & Mrs Brisland

 

 

 

Baby Croc in Galapagos

Picture courtesy of Mr & Mrs Brisland

Blue Footed Booby in Galapagos

Picture courtesy of Mr & Mrs Brisland

A Journey Around Costa Rica – By Peter Ellis

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Vicki Tester

 

I have just returned from a trip to Costa Rica and cannot wait to tell you about it. It was the first time that I have visited Central America and my expectations were high but I now realise how ill informed I was about this amazing country. The first thing to say is how welcoming I found everyone and proud of their countries achievements. With no army, the money saved has been ploughed in to education and their health service; leading to 98% literacy rate and a primary school in every village. Early on they realised that they could not produce coffee on the scale of places like Brazil so they have decided to only grow top quality instead and I can confirm that it is great – everywhere. Costa Rica also expects to be carbon neutral by 2020.

The scenery is amazing with over 120 volcanoes dominating views in many places around the country. Five of these are still active. The national parks account for 25% of the land mass and encompass a host of different eco systems such as cloud forests, rain forests, mangrove forests and everything in between. The wildlife is spectacular, the bird life even more so and the flora beautiful. Having a guide to show you what is hidden in these reserves is a must – they have the eyes to see things and their knowledge of the flora and fauna ensures you are fully informed. Waking up to see Arenal Volcano in the morning light in front of your lodge and then watching a sloth making its way slowly along the branch in the tree behind has to be a special treat.

                Picture courtesy of Peter Ellis

I was lucky enough to see turtles hatching on the Caribbean side of the country, be woken by howler monkeys on the Osa Peninsula (the second loudest mammal on earth), hummingbirds and toucans in most places and frigate birds on the Pacific coast. The variety of new and interesting sights, flora and fauna was/is amazing. There are even big cats to be found here, although I missed them all. So much to see and do…Tortuguero has a beach of about 20 miles and at the right time of the year has 20,000 adult female turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs. That is on a poor year – on a good year in can be up to 40,000!

 

There is much more to talk about and I will be putting this in blogs and in an “Experience Eye” sample itinerary very shortly. But if you would like to chat about this wonderful country just call. Pour yourself a Costa Rican coffee first though!

                  Picture courtesy of Peter Ellis

                    Picture courtesy of Peter Ellis

                  Picture courtesy of Peter Ellis

Ecuador

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Avatar

 

Located on the equator, this is a country of snow capped volcanoes, green valleys and steamy jungles and of course the wonderful Galapagos Islands, the archipelago that inspired Charles Darwin in 1835 and continues to amaze every visitor since.

Summary

Ecuador

Day 1: Arrive Quito
Day 2: Private tour of Quito and the Equatorial Monument
Day 3: Otavalo
Days 4 – 6: Spirit of the Andes 3 day tour .
Day 7 – 11: Galápagos Cruise
Day 11: Guayaquil

Description

Description

Day 1: Arrive Quito
Arrive in Ecuador’s Capital city where you will be met at the airport and transferred to your hotel, your base for 3 nights

Day 2: Private tour of Quito and the Equatorial Monument
Quito, a modern, vibrant city with a long and fascinating history, was the second most important city in the Inca Empire (after Cusco). The beautifully restored colonial quarter, the largest and best preserved of South America, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stroll through the Old Town with its churches, monasteries and hidden patios. Your tour continues just north of Quito to the Equatorial Monument, latitude 0º, where you can stand with a foot on each hemisphere. Visit the Ethnographic Museum inside the monument, which shows the different Native American groups living in Ecuador.

Day 3: Otavalo
Early departure for a one day tour of the fertile Otavalo Valley. The journey north takes you through dramatic mountain scenery to Otavalo, surrounded by volcanoes, rivers and lakes. Visit the world famous market featuring a dazzling display of tapestries, hammocks, jewellery, paintings and colourful native clothing. Continue to Peguche, an Indian village, home to the artisans who do the weaving in their homes; learn about their culture and everyday life. The excursion includes lunch at one of the charming country inns or haciendas of the area.

There are other options here, including a visit to the Cloud Forest either on a day or multi day basis and/or to visit the Amazon basin for two to three days.

Days 4 – 6: Spirit of the Andes 3 day tour .
Today you will embark on a 3 day adventure into the Andes that will awaken your senses. From Quito, travel along the Avenue of the Volcanoes, to Cuenca. The journey takes you through breathtaking landscapes, with cultural discoveries and ethnic and culinary delights along the way; you will gain insights into the local life, customs and traditions of the Andean people.  There are various options for this part of your tour, which may include exploring Cotopaxi National Park in more detail and/or travelling on the Devil’s Nose train

Your journey ends in the city of Cuenca. Its superb Colonial centre, that still retains all of its traditional charm, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stroll along the flower-lined cobblestone streets and along the river bank, visit the churches, museums, antique shops and art galleries. At dusk on you final day transfer to Cuenca airport for your flight to Guayaquil for an overnight stay.

An alternative here is to take an overland journey to Guayaquil, this is a full day journey and requires the addition of two extra nights – one in Cuenca and one in Guayaquil.

Day 7 – 11: Galápagos Cruise
Today you will be transferred to Guayaquil Airport for your flight to the Galápagos. There is no place on Earth like the Galápagos Islands. Far out in the Pacific Ocean, this archipelago is part of Ecuador’s national park system. When Charles Darwin visited in 1835, he observed a pristine, naturally isolated living laboratory that would inspire and refine his theories. The islands have not lost their ability to inspire; here you can walk amongst unique species such as marine iguanas, observe the elaborate mating rituals of blue-footed boobies, albatrosses and frigate birds, snorkel with turtles… encounter wildlife unthreatened by predators and undisturbed by visitors. Explore the magic of the Galápagos on comfortable expedition cruise vessels, accompanied by expert, knowledgeable guides who are committed to preserving this wonderful area for future generations.

There are a number of different cruise options and of varying durations.  There is also a land based programme for those less keen to take to the water.

Day 11: Guayaquil
Fly back to Guayaquil on the mainland to continue your onward arrangements

All photographs by kind permission of Metropolitan Touring

MTE1977      RODRI 11

 

quito      spirit-of-the-andes

Little Gems

Little Gems

Without a doubt, the highlight of this itinerary is the opportunity to visit the Galapagos Islands and it is your preference for this part of the tour that should be planned first!

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